Our Lady of the Flowers isthe first novel of Jean Genet written by him while he was in prison. It is also a great work which completed the Romantic revolution started in the early half of eighteen hundreds in France by such painter as Delacroix who described his own work as “a disciple of ugliness”. Later on Jean Genet in his novel Miracle of the Rose stated “Ugliness is Beauty at rest” (cited in Koch). It is obvious that the Romantic idea that “beauty is the projection of ugliness” was reflected in the novel Our Lady of the Flowers.
Tracing the events, the characters’ behavior, and the narrator’s attitude towards the story and the heroes the novel can seem shocking to a reader. As the main heroes are transvestites, pimps, and murderers, it is surprising to find out that the author uses the language of poetry, heroism, and even sainthood to describe them. The story begins with telling about the murderers, and the narrator tells that his book is written “… is in honor of their crimes” (Genet 2). Honoring the crimes is a nonsense by its nature, usually the good deeds are honored, not the crimes; nevertheless, the narrator underlines that he is proud of his heroes. The glory and the abjection are the main notions in the novel. Interestingly, the lowest and the abject state according to the author’s view leads to the highest state- saintliness. Speaking about Devine he tells that when she wanted to kill herself “God took her and made her a saint” (Genet 112). As Devine was a drug addicted transvestite it is very unusual to view her as a saint. This example represents the reversal of social standards in the novel. Our Lady of Flowers is full of such reversals and contradictions, and this acknowledges its belonging to the above mentioned Romantic Movement. Genets treats evil as beautiful, and vise verse beautiful is not regarded as something nice or pleasant, but gets more negative shade like in comparison: “As ogrish as beauty is greedy” (82). Another example is finding beauty in the transvestites’ relations, comparing them to “loving boxers”, and describing beauty of their bodies (Genet 21). Depicting the scenes of betrayal, the author does not judge it or regard as something immoral or bad: “Though Darling’s personal relations had dwindled as a result of his betrayals, Devine’s had increased” (Genet 68). The betrayals are stated as a fact and the author still likes his heroes.
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Genet tries to make the reader see the positive qualities in the “social misfits”. As a matter of fact, Devine is at a great extend the author’s alter-ego. The unhappy childhood, vagabond adolescence are common for the author himself and his character. Genet shows that her transformation into a woman is the reaction on pressure from a hostile society. However, she is still a positive heroine in the novel, who manages to bring a sort of love into her life, no matter what kind of love it is. The next hero is a pimp called Darling, who is strong and beautiful, but also “he likes selling out on people for this dehumanized him”, but this is what makes Devine want to be dominated by him (Genet 16). The same as betrayal being dominated and sexually abused is regarded as allowed and desired. It is also necessary to pay attention to the third character- a murderer Our Lady. His glory is termed by his indifference and blind courage “murder 1, murder 2, murder 3, up to six, bespeaking his secret glory and preparing his future glory” (Genet 2).
Finally, it is obvious that in the novel Our Lady of Flowers the people’s qualities which bring them glory as well as the values and moral principles are inversed. The fantasy characters born in Genet’s mind live in the bleakest reality of violence and deprivation, which remind the reality of the prison. Nevertheless, the values reversed by the writer being “wrong and opposite” and having a controversy even in the word combinations themselves are internally coherent in its mirror, easily recognizable to readers; moreover, they are poetically described. In such way Genet’s lyricism provides a new view on sordid reality and establishes his own models for modern-day heroes and saints, which correspond to those, formulated by the Romantic Movement of the early half of eighteen hundreds.
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